Horwill saga leaves sour taste in the mouth

So James Horwill has been, for a second time, cleared of stamping on Alun-Wyn Jones’ face. He was initially exonerated, before the IRB appealed their own findings… only to clear him a second time. Baffled? Me too.

Their official wording was, “it could not be said that the judicial officer was manifestly wrong or that the interests of justice otherwise required his decision be overturned.” Did they ever really expect to overturn their own decision? Or was this simply a game to appease the Lions?

So the #JusticeforHorwill campaign, which has been doing the rounds of social media recently, has got its desired outcome. This despite every man and his dog (or kangaroo – even Australians can’t claim ignorance in this case) knowing that there is no way that Horwill’s foot could have landed in that position by accident.

He is obviously a decent bloke with an exemplary disciplinary record, but whether it was a case of the red mist descending for a moment or simply that he was aiming for somewhere a bit less vicious than the face, Horwill was guilty of stamping on Alun-Wyn Jones. For that he should at least have been ruled out of the rest of the series.

He is the totem of this Australia team. Genia and company behind the scrum might make the headlines, but it is around Horwill that they rally, and he is the one to whom they turn when the chips are down and chasing the game – as they have been in both tests so far. He played an almighty role in hauling them back from the brink of series defeat to set up a decider.

Of course, Paul O’Connell fulfilled this role for the Lions. He was every bit as inspirational and important to the men in red as Horwill is to the Wallabies. That one has been ruled out by bad luck and the other has been allowed to keep playing despite an act of foul play does not seem just.

This is not an anti-Australia or even anti-Southern Hemisphere article. In fact, it conjures up distasteful memories of the Cian Healy affair in the Six Nations. He was at least banned, but after appealing and only missing one game, most people agreed at the time it was an insufficient punishment for the crime – again, what looked like a moment of red mist. It’s all very well offering contrition and regret at the disciplinary hearing, as both Healy and Horwill undoubtedly did, but that does not excuse the act.

In a seemingly separate disciplinary universe, Richard Cockerill was banned for nine weeks for using abusive language on the touchline of the Aviva Premiership Final. Admittedly he has previous form, but that length of ban, compared with nothing for a stamp that, deliberate or not, could have blinded Alun-Wyn Jones, surely is not right. Similarly, with regard to the Healy incident, Sergio Parisse was banned at the same time for significantly longer for the use of bad language.

Why is it that swearing seems to be a more punishable offence than potentially ending someone’s career? I appreciate it is never deliberate (although it is tough to see how Horwill and Healy weren’t at least trying to cause some form of harm) but that does not excuse it either.

Nor am I saying Cockerill or Parisse’s bans should be reduced or overturned – there is no place for abuse of officials in the game – but the severity of their bans compared to Healy’s, and the non-existence of Horwill’s, seems strikingly disproportionate.

Rugby players live on the edge. To do their job effectively, they must be pumped up and play right on the line between aggression and thuggery. Occasionally, someone will overstep this line, but to properly dissuade players from doing it more often the punishments must surely be stricter or, in the case of Horwill, at the very least enforced. The point here is that the disciplinary system needs a shake-up, and Horwill is merely the latest in a line of players (Healy, Woodcock, Burger etc.) who have got off lightly for crimes that deserved greater punishment.

If the Lions win on Saturday then this will all be forgotten and, frankly, no-one will care that Horwill was on the pitch. But if Horwill leads Australia to a series victory there will be Lions fans screaming that he should not have been on the pitch for the final two games, and who knows what might have happened had justice been served. They would have a point.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

18 thoughts on “Horwill saga leaves sour taste in the mouth

  1. Guys, honestly, Horwill is not in fault.

    This kind of things happen. The moment that Horwill looked down AW Jones’ head was not on the ground yet, he went into the ruck trying to stop the lions, lost his balance and placed his foot on the place where a couple of seconds ago was nothing.

    These kinds of things happen even on schoolboy level, Especially because it is Horwill who has been exemplary in terms of discipline.

    A bit of overreacting really.

    1. Absolute rubbish he should have been banned for 6 months. The Crims are simply out and out cheats!!

  2. A mostly fair article, but once again:


    In the case of Farrell, he should have been cited. But wasn’t. The man ran through a bunch of bodies on the ground. At the very minimum that was reckless!

    In the case of Horwill, he was cited and cleared. 9 different cameras were taken into account, versus the one that everyone has seen. He got off. With Horwill, it’s not about punishment, but about determination of guilt. The IRB is clearly satisfied that he isn’t guilty of stamping. This, in effect, is the same outcome as Adam Ashley-Cooper knocking himself out on Vunipolo’s elbow. Unintentional. Argue what you will, but this unprecedented intervention by the IRB reviewing its own inquiry process must count for something.

    This will probably be remembered in the Home Nations, but only as a distraction. It does not compare to The Spear Tackle in ’05, which was clearly malicious, but yes, the IRB has some explaining to do. To everyone.

    1. Don’t think anyone would have been crying foul had Farrell been cited (and missed a couple of weeks).

      The ‘attempting to get my balance guv’ argument doesn’t seem too plausible, I’ve not heard any of the ex-international sound too convinced by that defence. Deans being on the disciplinary panel seems like a conflict of interests as well!

      But completely agree, it’s nothing like Burger, Grey or Umanga. It’s not going to be a talking about in 12 years (like McRae or Grey)

  3. I have taken part in several disciplinary procedures as a witness and also as the manager of cited players. Forget fairness or natural justice these committees pay little or no consideration to a legal process but are more often driven by external pressures. Sometimes it can result in staggering leniency, as in the case of Horwill, but more often in excessive punishment to a player who had no intent to harm. As I was told by the chairman of such a committee, this is not a court of law, it is our opinion based on our view of the balance of probability. In a court of law Horwill is likely to have been found guilty simply based on the television evidence, there would probably have been no consideration of what was going through his mind at the time. There must be many legal professionals who read this blog, am I correct?

  4. I can’t see how anyone can say for definite it was deliberate. I thought Vunipolas elbow looked far more premeditated.

  5. Lost balance. Well, if he lost balance, he was leaning to the right and crossed his legs to ‘step’ to the left. The guy’s got to have the strangest centre of gravity on earth if that was him regaining his balance.

    1. He was in the ruck, and the lions were flooding in, you just put your foot where you instinctively feel it will be the best, you don’t overthink how you may achieve maximum balance. It’s an accident, the paranoia is completely overblown. Horwill is an exemplary player, if it was Higgers I would have believed it in a certain degree (although he really grew up in super rugby this year) but Horwill doing something like this would always be dodgy.

  6. The irony of the Cockerill one is he was screaming about a legal tackle, it’s a bit of a shame he didn’t get his way, have the incident reviewed and the penalty overturned.

    I’m glad he’s got the ban, I would have given him the same 11 weeks as Hartley.

  7. And we have players who represented four teams in the six nations competition to try beat a pretty average Australian team , we luckily won the first test , didn’t even score a solitary try and lost the second test is a bleeding joke . Nevermind Horwill when the Lions lose the third and last test Gatland and his band of muppets will all be the laughingstock .I’ll say again players from four different nations put together to try beat a pretty average wallabies team . Now that’s a joke !!!!!!

      1. Nothing like a bit of optimism, eh?

        Why should a group of players who have never played together in their lives – and are in fact used to knocking the stuffing out of each other – be significantly better than a squad of players who have been together for years and share heritage and traditions (let’s not get into nationality debates here – for the most part the Aussies are Aussies)?

        I’m all for people suggesting the Wallabies are favourites on Saturday – my head would tend to agree with you, although my heart says otherwise – but your logic is simply flawed.

  8. @pablito we are all allowed to express our opinions , aren’t we??? . I really couldn’t give a toss to be honest . In fact I’m routing for the wallabies to win . Gatland and his welsh muppets are a bunch of jokes . Even if we have Roberts , Tuilagi or God himself fit for Saturday we still haven’t a chance . The first win were a fluke . We didn’t have any attacking ambition in the second test and the third test we are getting a walloping . You can stay optimistic but in reality you know the lions haven’t got a chance this Saturday .

    1. OK, I don’t understand why being poor in the second test means you switch your allegiance and support the Wallabies in the 3rd?

      We aren’t getting too many Aussies on here going “come on Lions” because they think Dingo is a muppet and he shouldn’t be playing a winger as a FH.

  9. I’m not switching allegiance fella , I’m supporting the team that’s playing better brand of rugby and at the moment I think the wallabies are playing superior and more entertaining rugby than us . I’d rather watch a faster brand of rugby than the more slow grinding type of rugby we in the northern hemisphere are accustomed to , it’s boring now and so out of date .

    1. We’ve played some good stuff this tour, on Sat we clammed up under the pressure and enormity of the occaision. Think of the ABs in the RWC final, their skill and expansive game deserted them and they ground out a lucky win. The games with the most at stake aren’t often things of free flowing beauty. I’m optimistic we will go out an play this weekend though, as going out trying not to lose didn’t work last week.

    2. Not quite sure that anyone else I have come across has viewed either game as boring!

      As for “out of date”. – how so?

  10. @ Airborn2518 everyone entitled to their opinion ‘fella’ but I think yours amounts to trolling ….. not welcome here m8 :) ‘Welsh muppets ?’ err was the British & Irish Lions last time I looked . I sincerely hope the Lions win well on Saturday if only to see your comments …. if, that is, you can bear to come on here & give the Lions some credit.

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